Kim McCullough

The No. 1 reason your backhand is bad

By Kim McCullough, M.Sc, YCS

The backhand is one of the most feared shots in the world of girls’ hockey. Goalies hate backhands because they can be very unpredictable when done well and players hate them mostly because they aren’t very good at them. The No. 1 reason girls have such weak backhands is that they keep their top hand way too close to their hip.

What do I mean by that? If you are a righthanded shot, your left hand is your top hand. Most female hockey players (for some strange reason I still can’t quite figure out) hold their top hand very close to their hip. In this case of the righty, it would be on their left hip. This means that both hands and the stick are being carried very close to the body and that the stick is most likely no where close to the ice (but that’s another topic entirely).

When your hands are that close to your body, it restricts your ability to stickhandle, shoot and pass effectively. The reason is that you lose a significant range of motion with your arms and your stick when you carry your hands close to your body.

So why is this important for your backhand? Because you need to be able to cup and sweep the puck the same way you do on your wrist shot in order for your backhand to be effective (as a side note, having your top hand glued to your hip has devastating effects on your wrist shot, too). 

Most young players shoot what I like to call a “pitchfork backhand.” Their blade never cups the puck at all, they don’t start with the puck behind their back foot and they basically try to lift the puck into the air by flinging their stick as high and hard into the air as they can. Shooting like this gives you zero control and very little power. Not to mention the fact that it just looks so wrong.

Once you get your top hand away from your hip, you give yourself a much greater range of motion with your arms and stick. That allows you to cup the puck, sweep the puck behind the frame of your body, like you would do in a wrist shot, and follow through at the end pointing your stick at the target.

Getting your top hand away from your hip is something that I am constantly telling my players to do to help their passing, stickhandling and shooting. Sometimes I feel like a broken record out there, repeating myself over and over again. It’s one of those little details that makes a huge difference in the way you play the game. So as you are practicing and playing in your games this weekend, I want you to think about making this little adjustment to your game. It may feel a little awkward at first if you aren’t used to it, but I can guarantee you that it will have a positive impact on your performance.

For a specific eight-week plan to take your stickhandling and shooting to the next level, visit Kim McCullough, MSc, YCS, is an expert in the development of aspiring female hockey players. She is a former NCAA Division I captain at Dartmouth and played in the National Women’s Hockey League for six years. She is currently the Girls Hockey Director at the PEAC School for Elite Athletes in Toronto and is the Founder of Total Female Hockey.